Put Boots On the Ground
in Elk Habitat

The Key to Finding Elk

Once you find reasonably good elk habitat in an area that meets your needs, spend the time to get know it well. Do some satellite hunts in other areas to put feelers out for something better. But eventually, stake a few claims and stick to them, if you can. The areas will be more productive if you know them well, even if the herds are not huge.

Take notes about where and when the elk move and you will begin to see patterns and habits the elk repeat occasionally. Click here for a discussion about patterning elk habits.

There is good elk habitat near my home with higher elk populations than the areas I choose to hunt, but I like to hunt the closest areas that I am familiar with and where fewer hunters go. My sons and I have been regularly successful around here because we are familiar with several reasonably good places to hunt. Familiarity makes them the best places to hunt for us. If the elk are not in one specific area, we hunt another place. We move around until we see elk or fresh sign. Then we hunt it as long as we are getting into elk or until we find that they have moved on. We return there later in the year or the following year.

Hunting Experience Snowballs into Success

Finding elk improves as you get to know an area and as you get to know elk, personally. Spending time in a specific elk habitat will go a long way toward repeated success in years to come. “Where to hunt” will become a decision between several places on your “getting to know” list.

In 1989, my first elk hunting season, I had decades of successful deer hunts under my belt. I never even saw an elk that first season! I had scouted a specific elk habitat all summer and had seen lots of elk, but I had gotten sparse local advice. I was told later, “Yeah, those elk leave right before archery season starts.” Elk don’t stay put like deer do.

The next year I asked my old friend and well-known knife maker, the late Jim Sasser, to help me find the best places to hunt for my first elk. He got the Colorado regulations out and helped me narrow a spot down to a depredation hunt on a private ranch.

With permit in hand, I talked to the rancher and he told me of a place to hunt and when to go. I arrived before daybreak and slept through a blizzard in my pick-up. I then went out in the afternoon after the wind died down (which usually happens at sunrise or sunset). All the other hunters had been driven out by the storm. I killed a nice cow, right where the rancher said to hunt. After I quartered it, the rancher hauled it to my pickup for me on his snow mobile.

On my third elk season a friend took me to a private Montana ranch where he had permission to hunt. He told me I could go anywhere but “that way”, as he pointed in the dark to his preferred location. I respectfully went the other direction. At daylight I found myself in the only drainage around with trees. I killed my second elk. My host partner had gotten turned around in the dark and inadvertently pointed me toward his favorite place to hunt. “You killed my elk”, he lamely proclaimed as we hauled it out.

Document What You See and Hear

I had started finding elk because I was learning to find and document good elk habitat. Maps began to become more vital in my planning than asking others for advice, because I was learning how to find places to hunt in elk habitat from the geography. Pre-hunt cyber-scouting online or with hard copy topos and aerial photos helps hone your area down to increase odds of “close encounters of the herd kind”. (See the Hunting Maps page here.)

We have lived in the same place in Montana for many years now. I hunted the first two years in our current area without killing an elk, but I was learning the area and finding elk.

Since then I have killed an elk every year. Because of time spent with stealthy boots on the ground. I know where to go to find elk because I spend the time hunting or scouting elk habitat. I don’t see elk every day that I hunt, mind you. Some days feel like I’m just hiking with my bow or gun. Elk do move long distances for many reasons.

My family doesn’t hunt areas that are high in elk numbers. Patience and time spent hunting elk habitat produces inevitable opportunities, even in areas with smaller elk populations.

Start a list for your “best places to hunt” based on your pre-hunt research and on-the-ground scouting. Then tailor it to your hunting style preferences. Keep copious notes each year about what you see and learn. The data will add up and make finding elk more effective each year.

Once you find reasonably good elk habitat in an area that meets your needs, spend the time to get know it well. Do some satellite hunts in other areas to put feelers out for something better. But eventually, stake a few claims and stick to them, if you can. The areas will be more productive if you know them well, even if the herds are not huge.

Take notes about where and when the elk move and you will begin to see patterns and habits the elk repeat occasionally.

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Forum Topic Discussions:


Is a 308 rifle enough for elk hunting?I recently bought a Mossberg in 308 caliber. I am wondering if that caliber is ok..., by Skip (Tucson, AZ)

295 yard kill with a Kimber Montana 325 WSM, by Don from Dallas: My ELk did not even twitch once. He was dead when he hit the ground.

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30-30 for Elk? : I have a 30 30 with 170 grain round nose bullet. Will this work to shoot an elk ?

(More comments about Best Elk Rifle below)

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